F Rosa Rubicondior: Church of England Hits a New Low

Saturday 8 September 2018

Church of England Hits a New Low

The Anglican Church has been abandonned by the British
Church of England numbers at record low | NatCen Social Research

The latest British Social Attitudes Survey makes grim reading for the Church of England and hold few crumbs of comfort for leaders of other religions.

The most recent British Social Attitudes survey reveals that the number of Brits who identify as Church of England has more than halved since 2002, falling from 31% to 14%.The sharpest decline happened among 45 to 54 year olds (35% in 2002 vs 11% in 2017). The proportion of people who describe themselves as Roman Catholic (8%), belonging to ‘other Christian affiliations’ (10%) and ‘of non-Christian faiths’ (8%) have remained fairly stable. 52% of people now say they have no religion, compared with 41% in 2002. Men are more inclined to say they follow no religion than women (57% compared with 48%).

Our figures show an unrelenting decline in Church of England and Church of Scotland numbers. This is especially true for young people where less than 1 in 20 now belong to their established church. While the figures are starkest among younger people, in every age group the biggest single group are those identifying with no religion.

We know from the British Social Attitudes survey that people’s views are becoming more socially liberal on issues like same sex relationships and abortion. With growing numbers belonging to no religion, faith leaders will no doubt be considering how to better connect to a changing society.

Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes,
National Centre for Social Research
As though that wasn't bad enough for the Church of England, the results for the key 18-24 year-old age group are even worse. Of this group, just 2% identify themselves as Anglican (down from 9% in 2002) whilst 70% say they have no religion (56% in 2002). This group is a key group for the long-term future of the Church because studies show that people rarely change their religious affiliation after their early to mid 20's and this is the group that will be providing the next generation as well as new recruits into the priesthood.

To put it bluntly, the Anglican church for young adults especially, is now functionally obsolete, being just a fringe cult. Yet the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester and 21 other bishops in order of seniority sit in the unelected upper chamber of the UK Parliament as of right.

But falls in affiliation to the Church of England and increases in those with no religion ('nones') are reflected across all age groups, holding out no hope that religious affiliation tends to increase with age. As the younger cohort from 2002 move into the higher age groups, they not only take their previous attitudes with them but the churches shed even more support. The 45-54 year-old age group has seen a further decline from 34% nones to just 11% in 2017, for example. Affiliation to the CofE in the over 65 year-old group has fallen from 51% to 30%. This same group has seen an increase in nones from 18% to 34% over the same period.

Although religious affiliation has dropped across all age groups, young people are least likely to be religious. 70% of those aged 18-24 say they have no religion. This is an increase from 56% in 2002. 2% of this group view themselves as Anglicans, down from 9% in 2002. In contrast, Brits aged 65 and over are most likely to say they belong to the Church of England (30%). In 2002, 51% of this age group identified as Church of England. This age group has also seen a sharp decline in religious identity, with 34% saying they have no religion in 2017, compared with 18% in 2002. In 2002, 35% of 45 to 54 year olds said they followed the Church of England. The figure for that age group is now 11 % - the biggest fall in percentage points across age groups.

The one crumb of comfort in these figures, and it's a miniscule crumb, is that overall the nones fell from the 53% high in 2016 to 52% in 2017 (a statistically insignificant change). Nones remain in an absolute majority in the UK, outnumbering all religions put together and vastly out-numbering any single religion.

From the Church's point of view, the results for Scotland are even worse.

The number of Scots who say they belong to the Church of Scotland [Anglican] has fallen overall, from 31% in 2002 to 18% in 2017. In 2002, 14% of those aged 18 to 34 said they followed the Church of Scotland, compared with 4% in 2017. In 2002, 24% of those aged 35 to 54 said they followed the Church of Scotland, the figure is now 13%. 32% of those aged 55 and over say they do so, down from 50% in 2002.

56% of Scots now say they have no religion. Those aged 18 to 34 are the most likely to say this (73%), followed by 35 to 54 year olds (59%) and those aged 55 and over (42%). All age groups have seen a decline in religious identity of between 11-17% in the last fifteen years, which has gone hand in hand with a gradual decline in church attendance at Church of Scotland services. 33% of those affiliated with the Church of Scotland attended at least once per month in 2002 while now only 25% do.

It's not possible to establish a causal link because it's not clear to what extent the Anglican Church implemented it strategy to halt this decline and spread its 'message', but whatever they did, it has been a monumental failure. In 2015, following a survey that revealed just how negative the response was when Christian evangelicals 'talk to people about Jesus' where 59% of those spoken to want to know less about Jesus and 42% felt glad they didn't share the Christian's faith, the church concluded that its best strategy was to do more talking to people about Jesus.

Maybe it's time the Church accepted reality; it's not the way they present and package their 'message', it's the 'message' itself that more and more people are finding repugnant and irrelevant.

No-one needs or wants anymore the moral guidance and leadership of bigots who only reluctantly accept women as the equal of men, who condemn gays as sinners, who won't conduct same-sex marriages, and whose priesthood has shown itself to be all too ready to abuse minors and vulnerable adults and turn a blind eye to it when their colleagues do it and even help in cover-ups. In short, no-one wants to listen to people who have no moral claim to moral authority or the the power and privileges they claim because they have an imaginary friend and believe in magic.

Further reading:
This article in the Guardian, for its graphical representation of the data.

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